Everybody clinches something at Wrigley Field.
In the last week, the Braves and Pirates clinched a division title and a playoff spot, respectively, while the Cubs clinched the most home losses in team history and the worst attendance since Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire played Steroid Derby.
Welcome to the Inept Confines.
But we knew the Cubs wouldn’t win anything. Hope Salesman Theo Epstein pretty much promised it. The Cubs would stink because that’s where the good draft picks are. Stinking was the goal in terms of records.
But not in terms of individual performances. This season and last season were all about individual performances of young players expected to be part of the foundation if the Cubs ever become good again.
Same deal for the manager and coaches charged with making those performances better. That’s the issue Epstein has to decide by next week, but you’d think he already knows.
I mean, the question seems simple: Are the Cubs’ important young players getting better?
And the answer is equally simple: Ha!
That was Dale Sveum’s job – Sveum’s only job, really, along with his coaches. The Cubs are a light year behind actual baseball teams in the NL Central, and they have no chance of catching up if their young major leaguers are doing full gainers into the toxic waste dump of Overhyped Cubs Kids.
Sveum is a former shortstop and hitting coach, yet shortstop Starlin Castro is hitting worse than ever while making 22 errors (when he can remain awake). The most important infielder has gotten worse under the manager and coaching staff. I mean, just look:
Before Sveum got the job, Castro hit .307. Since then, he has batted .283 and .243. Before Sveum arrived, Castro’s on-base percentage was .341. Since then, .323 and, gads, .283. Before Sveum, Castro slugged .432. Since then. .430 and .344. Before Sveum, Castro’s OPS was .773. Since then. .753 and, yeesh, .653.
How long would a metric-centric jury need to convict?
But wait. There’s more bad hitting. The Cubs’ prized first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, the player Jed Hoyer is constitutionally required to bring in no matter what job he gets, has dropped in all of the categories in which Castro has plummeted.
Worse, the projected No. 3 hitter’s slugging percentage has fallen almost every month this season, while his OPS from April to September death-spiraled like this: .846, .807, .745, .701 .667 and .647.
And don’t forget how bad Jeff Samardzija has become. Samardzija gave up 23 earned runs in April and May combined. He gave up more than that in August alone. Since the start of June, Samardzija’s ERA is 5.13, and that’s good compared to a 5.53 for July-August-September. I don’t know why he was still in the rotation in September, but then again, it doesn’t matter who’s in the Cubs rotation in September.
The players have to take a big part of the responsibility for their pathetic seasons and embarrassing regression. It’s their job before it’s Sveum’s and his staff’s job. But managing the young future was Sveum’s first priority, and how’s that going for him?
There are two different issues here. The first is whether Epstein believes Sveum can manage the way he thought-slash-hoped-slash-guessed. The second is whether there is someone better available.
In other words, if it happens that Joe Girardi re-signs with the Yankees, Sveum doesn’t suddenly become a better manager.
Keeping an ineffective manager because no one else is out there signals continued ineptitude. I don’t know how Epstein can sell another season of Sveum. I can’t believe Epstein is scared of making a move, even if making that move spotlights a major error in Epstein’s judgment.
Making a mistake is one thing, but refusing to rectify that mistake is worse. They taught that at Yale, right?
If he can’t pick the first manager, what confidence do we have that he can pick the second?
And he has to get the second manager right, because Baseball Saviors are supposed to get only one managerial change.
Changing managers now will make Epstein suspect. He has never rebuilt a team from this kind of black hole and raised it to a championship. The Red Sox needed some players to win the first one, but not an entire roster the way the Cubs do. Epstein’s direction created the second World Series champion as the Red Sox became a drafting and development machine, although Epstein was AWOL when the Red Sox acquired Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in a deal Epstein said he’d never make.
But back to the Cubs and where they are now, and that’s building that drafting and development machine at the minor league level. The development at the major league level, however, is laughable, if not disastrous.
The contracts given Rizzo and Castro were based on their getting better. They haven’t, and it looks like Epstein gave the kids those big deals so Edwin Jackson’s contract wouldn’t feel so lonely in Stupidtown.
Look, the future is the only thing the Cubs have. Epstein is a high-priced hope salesman, and the hope he’s selling includes Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. They won’t come to the majors as finished products. They will need leadership and coaching. Do you want that kind of precious future in the hands of the manager whose staff turned a couple .300 hitters into Kevin Orie?